An Actor's Guide to Misconceptions About Acting
Katie Redford's advice for actors stepping out into the big wide world of acting...
Stepping out into the big wide world as an actor can sometimes feel about as welcoming as a hangover; you get paranoid that you’ve done something wrong and it can sometimes feel worse than you predicted it would. However, it doesn’t always have to be that way. To be realistic whilst remaining positive is something that will serve you incredibly well along the way and the earlier you master that, the better. So, if you’re about to step out into the world as an actor, here are some big misconceptions that will hopefully save you a lot of disappointment, time and effort.
Being an actor isn’t just about performing; it’s about learning how to cope when you’re not performing.
Misconception 1: Having an agent guarantees work
When I signed with my first agent, my parents threw me a little party; a buffet, balloons, french fancies - the lot. I’m not entirely sure what gave us this idea but we all genuinely assumed that having signed with an agent meant I’d be a ‘proper actress’, working and auditioning all the time.
Just because you have an agent, don’t just think your job here is done. The relationship you have with your agent is a very important one. It should be a relationship that consists of trust, respect and communication. Remember: you’re both working for each other. So, don’t be the person who simply waits by the phone and then (when it doesn’t ring) slags their agent off. You’ll be surprised how quickly word gets around in an industry that seems so large.
Do your own research and continue reaching out to directors, casting directors, producers - anyone you’d like to work with. Guaranteed, while there will be quiet patches, when you’re being proactive yourself the quietness won’t seem half as deafening.
Misconception 2: Having another job will distract you
Get a job. Obviously, if you’ve landed an acting job instantly since venturing into the arts, then you’re probably not reading this blog to begin with, but anyhow, congratulations! However, the majority will not land a job straight away and being skint is really boring. Having money to fund yourself and your acting career is essential. But there’s so much more to gain from having another job than just money. It can offer you some stability and normality, which may not seem that exciting right now but, believe me, it’s vital. It will keep you grounded and will give you a sense of routine, which should help you stay more disciplined with your acting career.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting getting a full time job that consumes you, but if you can get some part time work that’s flexible, that doesn’t let you lose sight of your goals and that won’t end up being a full time career, then you’re on the right path. Indulge in the option of having a paid distraction and then when you do land an acting job, you can appreciate the differences between doing a job you love and doing a job that pays the bills. Being able to actually know the difference between the two feels truly wonderful.
Misconception 3: You have to go it alone
We’re not robots. We can’t feel motivated every minute of every single day. There will be times when you’ll question everything you’re doing, your ability, your choices, etc. And this is where someone else should come in - a mentor, if you wish. If you were in a regular job that meant you had a boss, you’d have regular reviews, feedback and meetings.
These are essential to have for you to progress, so think of someone in your life whom you admire, who’s on the same wavelength as you and whom you trust. Every now and then, check in with them and ask them to check in with you, just to keep each other on target.
I think being an actor or having any creative job in a self-employed world is a privilege but there’s no denying it can feel extremely lonely at times. I sometimes find myself craving a boss and even though he’s not quite Alan Sugar, my flatmate does a pretty good job of it. He’s also freelance, so understands where I’m coming from whether I reach out for some guidance or just need to feel motivated. By simply chatting to someone about your goals when you’ve got a little lost along the way, it can point you in the right direction.
Misconception 4: You have to say yes to everything
This is obviously dependent on the project, but when I first graduated, I would bend over backwards and do whatever I could to apply for a job. I remember one evening when I worked in a pub back in Nottingham (I ran out of money living in London and had to move back to the parents. Standard). My agent at the time, who was based in London, left me a message one afternoon to say I had an audition the following morning in London for AUDI. I didn’t hear this message until I finished my shift, which was around midnight. So, I drove home, exhausted and smelling of beer, booked a coach to London (too skint for a train) whilst also desperately trying to get my pub shift covered for the following day and to put it simply, my enthusiasm was at an all time low.
After 4 hours sleep, I got the 5.30am coach from Nottingham to London and visualised being rich from landing an AUDI commercial. However, when I arrived at the audition, I found out it was for ALDI, not AUDI. I was called into the casting room and was asked to mime eating a Magnum.
Three years of studying, running out of money, moving back home to the parents, working in a pub, four hours sleep, a seven hour coach journey all round…all to mime how to eat a Magnum. Deflated didn’t quite cut it. I mean, Jesus, I didn’t even get to eat an actual one. I would have bought one to cheer myself up but I was skint and they’re actually quite expensive. Plus, to top it all off, I hadn’t found cover for my pub shift that day so not only did I not get the ALDI job, but I also got a verbal warning from my bar job. When I told my friend about this, she said, “Ah well, you have to laugh.” Well, no you don’t actually. I didn’t.
I’m not saying that you should only say yes to things you really want to do. Unfortunately, if we want to make a career for ourselves (and unless you’ve reached a certain stage), I don’t think that we have that luxury. But don’t just say yes for the sake of it. Think about the job. How would it benefit you - financially and your career in general? Does it sound like something you’d enjoy? Will they make you mime eating a Magnum? Sorry. I’m over it. Totally over it.
Misconception 5: You should only focus on the end goal
There isn’t an end goal and there never will be, so to constantly have the end in mind is simply a waste of time and an unrealistic way to live. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have projects in mind that you aspire to - I think it’s so important that you do. But you shouldn’t think about them as end goals. They should be milestones you aim to hit along the way. If you constantly think of an end goal, it could result in you feeling overwhelmed, disappointed and you won’t enjoy the journey itself, which is the best bit.
If you don’t learn to accept the gruelling graft, the ups and downs, the uncertainty and the unpredictability, then you’re in for a shock. It’s not easy to accept it but you will learn to with time. You don’t have to necessarily enjoy these factors either but they have to ignite something in you; you have to work with them rather than against them. Being an actor isn’t just about performing; it’s about learning how to cope when you’re not performing. So, focus your attention on your life right now rather than the end goal.
This is a career that will test your inner strength, that will cause your confidence to fluctuate, and present you with fierce competition. Try not to get caught up in all of this. There’s nothing you can do to control any of these things, so focus on the things you can control, like ‘dipping your toe in’ when you don’t have an acting job. You can do this by reading plays, seeing theatre, creating a showreel, investing in brilliant headshots, visiting an accent coach, going to a class. Do things that affirm that you are an actor, even if you aren’t working. And lastly, colourfully live a life alongside it all. Socialise, experience new things, visit new places. These are all far more important than the ‘end goal’ - they give you and your life variety, depth and Magnums.
(I’m over it. Totally over it.)
Katie Redford is an actress & writer originally from Nottingham, and part of the BBC New Talent Hotlist 2017. Katie won the BBC Norman Beaton Fellowship in 2015 via Birmingham Rep. She was part of the BBC Radio Drama Company and is now currently playing Lily Pargetter in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers and Ruby Tuliver in BBC Radio 4’s Home Front. She can also be heard as Layla in BBC Radio Comedy’s All Those Women.